Children need a regulation that covers all forms of abuse

Eurochild Policy & Advocacy Officer on Online Safety, Fabiola Bas Palomares, in an interview for CNAPE’s magazine ‘FORUM’ explains how the EU Regulation to combat child sexual abuse can protect children online.

Read an executive summary in English below.

Online platforms are being increasingly used by criminals to solicit children for sexual purposes and to disseminate imagery and videos depicting children being sexually abused or exploited. The latest Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) annual report has shown an increase of the number of reports of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) in 2022, i.e. images and videos involving the most grave sexual abuse - involving penetrative rape - were found online more often in 2022 than ever before.

The responsibility of online safety should not be put on children but on the tech companies and decision-makers. Currently, online service providers can detect child sexual abuse material in their platforms on a voluntary basis. We must transition from a voluntary regime to a set of rules that bind companies to fight against child sexual abuse in their platform. And we must act quickly: the voluntary scheme in force now will expire in August 2024.

At Eurochild we believe that protecting children from harm online and respecting user privacy are not mutually exclusive – the regulation provides safeguards that assess the safety and proportionality of the measures and technologies used to detect CSAM. Safety online shall not be an afterthought, but incorporated at the design stage to anticipate, detect and eliminate online harms before they occur. The regulation fosters this by obliging companies to do risk assessment on how their platforms might be used for child sexual abuse purposes and mitigate those risks.

While the Member States’ commitment to fighting child sexual abuse has been reiterated, the proposed regulation has been received with caution. Recently, 10 Member States have decided to create a like-minded group to support the Regulation, agreeing in the principles of tech-neutrality, broad scope, prevention focus and the EU Centre.

Eurochild is working closely with the European Union and other civil society organisations in ensuring a regulation that fights the three main different forms of child sexual abuse online by covering known and new material, together with grooming. We advocate for a child-rights approach and victim-centered regulation that puts the best interests of the child at the centre. Child protection must go hand in hand with preserving the privacy of all users and decision-makers have the duty to find technological and legal solutions that ensure this balance.

We are at a crucial stage in the legislative process, and we must spread the truth by sharing the facts with decision makers. Several decades of experience by dedicated organisations have demonstrated that self-reporting and voluntary detection are not enough. The effectiveness of detection is evidenced by the fact that pausing detection correlates directly with falling statistics on the total amount of CSAM being reported and removed, as happened in 2021. Children need a regulation that covers all forms of abuse they are exposed to, and that creates a mandatory system of prevention and detection that puts their best interest at the centre.

Read the full interview [only available in FR].

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